Boys basketball -- Blue Ridge 44, GCMS 30

 

FARMER CITY – Although GCMS could not pull off an upset victory Friday, falling to Blue Ridge 44-30, it left a positive impression.

Blue Ridge head coach Kyle Watson said the Falcons, who have already surpassed its win total from last year and whom the Knights defeated 65-53 in the third-place game of the GCMS Thanksgiving Tournament, are a much-improved team from the previous year.

“They’re vastly improved,” Watson said. “We knew they were going to play hard. We had to match their intensity to get a win tonight. They’re getting better. They play extremely hard. They’ve made huge leaps from last year, and that’s a credit to (GCMS head coach Ryan Tompkins) and his coaching staff. They’re going to sneak up on some teams and surprise some teams this year.”

That improvement was especially evident in the first quarter, as GCMS (3-5, 0-3 HOIC) took the initial 8-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and would have a 14-10 advantage early in the second quarter. Hasty scored the first two baskets of the game for the Falcons via jump shots from the perimeter to give his team lead of 2-0 and 4-2.

After Blue Ridge (7-2, 3-1 HOIC) went ahead 6-4, Ben Eads tied the game with about a minute left in the opening quarter before Drake Royal scored a go-ahead layup on a pass from Reese Simpson.

Defensively, GCMS’s yielding of six points to the Knights would be the first of two quarters in which it allowed a mere single-digit point total, as the Falcons yielded only eight points in the fourth quarter.

“I thought, defensively, we did a tremendous job,” Tompkins said. “The kids did a good job of executing the game plan. Coming in, Blue Ridge had the News-Gazette’s area’s leader in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. They’re a good team. The fact that we were able to battle and lead for a little bit and play well in spots and give ourselves a chance is commendable. We’ve still got a ways to go. We know we’ve still got a lot of things we have to improve upon, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

In the second quarter, Hasty broke an 8-8 tie with a jumper and Royal scored on a steal in the frontcourt to put GCMS up 12-8. An Eads field goal made the score 14-10.

That would be the biggest – and last – lead the Falcons would possess, as Blue Ridge went on a 9-0 run to go up 19-14 with 1:33 left in the first half. The run included 3-pointers from Mark and Michael Plunk.

From there, both teams would be held scoreless for nearly the rest of the first half. With less than 3.4 seconds left in the half, Hasty stole the ball in the frontcourt and scored on a layup before the buzzer sounded.

“I’m very happy with the kids’ effort and the way they played,” Tompkins said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Blue Ridge is a very good team, a very talented team. It is going to win its fair share of games, obviously. We’ve got to learn from this game and get better from it and get ready for the next one. We came out ready to play. We did a nice job of moving the ball early and hitting some shots.”

After leading at halftime 19-16, Blue Ridge broke the game open with a 17-8 third quarter, including a 13-3 run that put the team up 32-19 with 3:02 left in the third quarter after a first half that ended with a buzzer-beating shot by GCMS’s Wiley Hasty set up by a steal in the frontcourt. They went into the fourth quarter with a 36-24 lead.

“We just kind of talked at halftime and said, ‘We’re not playing our style of basketball,’” Watson said. “We knew that, if we were going to get a win, we had to play better than what we were playing, and we had a pretty good third quarter. We shared the ball a lot better in the third quarter. We ran our offense a lot better in the third quarter. We were able to get some fastbreaks for layups. Our defense stepped it up well, too.”

Travys Nichols and Will Duggins each scored a field goal to initiate the second-half scoring for the Knights and kill any momentum fueled by Hasty’s steal and score at the end of the first half.

“We were happy,” Tompkins said. “We had some momentum going into halftime. They came out and jumped out with the first two baskets and got us down seven, and it was just hard to recover after that.”

Duggins would score two more buckets during Blue Ridge’s 13-3 third-quarter run which helped the team head into the fourth quarter leading 36-24.

Hasty led the game in scoring with 12 points.

“Our bigs have been doing a good job all season with the combination of Nick Retherford, Ben Eads and Wiley,” Tompkins said. “They’ve done a great job. It’s a good thing we have that consistency.”

The Falcons would be without the junior center’s services for the final 4:10 of the game after he fouled out. Tompkins received a technical foul while arguing the referees’ call.

“When we got Hasty in foul trouble, I think that kind of put them at a little bit of a disadvantage because it gave us a height advantage inside,” Watson said. “He’s a great player, and he’s back next year. He’s going to be a ton next year. He’s a ton this year.”

After Michael Plunk made three of the four foul shots allotted by Hasty’s foul and Tompkins’ technical, GCMS responded with a 4-0 run – which included a fastbreak layup by Drake Royal – to cut Blue Ridge’s lead to 41-30.

“I really like how our guys held their composure,” Tompkins said. “Our kids did an excellent job of fighting and playing with poise and playing under control. I think we took care of the ball a lot better than we have in spots earlier in the season. There are a lot of positives coming out of tonight. We didn’t make shots. We missed some shots that we normally have been able convert. I think we went 2-of-11 from the line, which is not characteristic of us at this point.”

Michael Plunk led Blue Ridge with 11 points. He was one of seven different scorers for the Knights.               

“Michael’s been leading us all year,” Watson said. “He didn’t shoot the ball really well, but if his shots aren’t falling down, then he can play good defense. He can get some rebounds and some assists, and I think he did that. If you have one guy that scores all your points, it makes you awful hard to stop if that one guy is not scoring that night. We have a lot of scorers on this team this year, so the more teams focus on Michael, the more other guys can start scoring, as you saw tonight.”

Mark Plunk and Travys Nichols each added nine points. Nichols was playing in his first game after missing two with a sprained ankle.

“It was good to get Travys back tonight and get some game strength for him,” Watson said.

For GCMS, Drake Royal added eight points while Retherford and Eads each scored four points. Ross Royal contributed two points.

The Falcons hosted Fisher Tuesday and will participate in the Monticello Holiday Hoopla starting Wednesday, Dec. 26.

For Blue Ridge, meanwhile, Diggins added six points while Clint O’Neal contributed five points and Cody Davis and Dylan Trent each scored two points to help their team get off to a fast start in the HOIC.

“It’s a great start,” Watson said. “This is one of the toughest Class 1A and 2A conferences in Illinois. If you don’t come in ready to play on a nightly basis in this conference, you’re going to get beat. I think this has been one of the reasons why we’ve had the success we’ve had in the postseason the last few years because the conference is great night-in and night-out. It’s very well-coached. There are excellent teams in this conference. If you don’t come out ready to play – it doesn’t matter who you play – you’re going to get blown out.”

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